Devil's Knot – Review

 

Based on true story tales are a tricky thing to crack if the true story has never been resolved. For a great example, look no further than David Fincher’s Zodiac, which – whilst stunning to behold – was hardly the most likeable or accessible movie ever made. The undeniable problem is that if the true story has no resolution, then the movie can’t either; and in a day and age in which movies constantly seem to struggle with third act resolutions, that’s less like being shot in the foot and more like full-on amputation.

 

Devil’s Knot tells the story of a small Arkansas town and how its citizens are shaken to the core when three young boys disappear only for their bound and naked bodies to be fished out of the local river. With suspicion swiftly turning toward a group of local teen “Satanists”, a private investigator named Ron Lax steps in on their behalf, offering to uncover the truth himself as the case rapidly approaches the court room.

 

Despite its Arkansas setting, there is an undeniably glossy quality to Devil’s Knot that you can’t help but find obstructive to the more gritty and dramatic nature of proceedings. It’s clear from the writing throughout that Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman are aiming for something akin to a more grounded and real-world take on To Kill A Mockingbird or A Time To Kill, but with their script buried under art house-darling Atom Egoyan’s overly polished visuals it creates a conflicting feeling that leaves its audience underwhelmed and disappointed. There’s a lot of talent at play in Devil’s Knot, but it’s talent that either doesn’t seem to mesh together well, or talent that simply doesn’t work with the source material. I’d be inclined to believe that Egoyan aside, the fundamental issue is the unresolved story; however the films conclusion falls victim to the same flaw as last year’s 12 Years A Slave in that it closes on a textual epilogue that would have been vastly more interesting than the movie itself.

 

On the casting front, it’s a project for which everyone uniformly delivers; however there is an element of overcasting that proves distracting and renders certain aspects of the story confusing. For example, while Colin Firth gives his usual top notch performance (complete with a surprisingly convincing American accent) and Reese Witherspoon garners yet another clip for her imaginary Oscar reel, the inclusion of Dane DeHaan in an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss him role is simply mystifying. Were there more scenes cut from the finished product? Did DeHaan owe Egoyan a favour? Add this to a series of effectively non-parts such as Bruce Greenwood’s judge or Stephen Moyer’s lawyer character and it creates an air of Oscar fodder to a film that frankly isn’t even up to being that. 

 

The film feels wrought under the banner of a made-for-cable movie that somehow landed itself a movie-calibre cast only to then waste around two thirds of that cast in barely-written roles. With very little pep to the story and a cold retelling of events functioning in lieu of character (save for Firth’s), Devil’s Knot is overlong at 114 minutes, too uninteresting for a multiplex audience and fails to reach even the lacklustre level of last year’s Prisoners in terms of engagement.

 

 

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.

 

In it
Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Dane DeHaan

Behind it
Atom Egoyan




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